Last night, we knocked another Washingtonian Top 100 restaurant off our list. In choosing where to go, we compared the Savored choices (so as to get a little discount) with the Top 100 list, and that is how we found out about Sou’Wester. I thought the name had to do with the restaurant being in Southwest DC. Chris assumed it had something to do with its Southern fare. It turns out we were both wrong, and that Chef Ziebold chose the name because it means “strong winds hailing from the southwest,” hoping to channel that idea into his food and restaurant ambiance.
Sou’Wester is located in the stunning Mandarin Oriental Hotel, along with an even higher-ranked Top 100 restaurant, CityZen. (We took a curious peek on our way out. So posh and glamorous! At #14 and in the “very expensive” price range, it’s going to be awhile before we try out that one!)
With a 6:00pm reservation, we were surprised to be the first diners there! It was too bad, and actually, only a few more tables filled up as we ate. We did get to enjoy this amazing view though:
It was lovely to gaze at boats, the Jefferson Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, and the sunset while dining! The meal started off with some little vegan biscuits and butter. After glancing over the wine list, Chris and I decided to instead have an all-out Southern meal with some classic cocktails: The Sou’Wester Sweet Tea (Earl Grey infused Maker’s Mark bourbon, Carpano Antico vermouth, simple syrup, lemon juice, & Angostura bitters) and A Proper Mint Julep (Maker’s Mark bourbon, fresh mint, sugar & crushed ice).
Gotta love the mason jar and frosted aluminum-looking cup. The Sweet Tea definitely had the “nectar cocktail” taste to it, and was more of a lemony tea with a kick at the end. The Mint Julep was strong, but at the same time was pleasantly minty and the perfect accompaniment for a stylish Southern meal.
Chris ordered the Sorghum Glazed Duck Breast (forbidden black rice, wild mushrooms, caramelized pears and star anise reduction). He enjoyed pretty much everything except for the duck itself, which seemed a little chewy and bland. The star anise reuction and black rice were especially tasty, but the duck seemed to be lacking something. We just watched the No Reservations episode that was filmed in DC, and one scene shows Anthony Bourdain eating Ethiopian food with a friend. His friend points out that Westerners just aren’t used to chewy foods the way Africans are. He says that when we have to chew a bite of food more than ten times, it’s just not pleasant for us! Chris turned to me while we were watching and said that’s how he felt about his duck.
For my entree, I ordered the Grilled North Carolina Shrimp (Anson Mills grits, roasted tomato, pearl onions, house cured shoat ham, and pickled okra)… a.k.a. shrimp and grits. The shrimp itself was grilled to a smoky perfection, and was surprisingly spicy too! As you can see in the photo, there was so much going on. Every bite had a lot to offer, and I enjoyed all of the elements. The grits provided a subtly playful background to the shrimp and vegetables above it. Pearl onions are always a luxury to me, and the pickled okra was the perfect touch! I don’t really do ratings, but if I did: five stars for this dish!
To finish off, we looked at the dessert menu and were tempted to try out Chef Matthew Petersen‘s work (current contestant on Top Chef – Just Desserts!). We’ve been watching him on Bravo here and there, but had no idea that he works at Sou’Wester! (He also apparently does the pastries for CityZen.) It was tempting, but we had already planned ahead of time to try the Root Beer Float cocktail for dessert (Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Sou’Wester root beer, vanilla bean, Angostura bitters, soda, and vanilla nuage).
I’m so glad we had it split in half, because just a half was huge! The float had a pure sweetness to it, and was very yummy. I couldn’t quite finish mine, because I hit my sweetness limit!
I hope it was an off night for Sou’Wester, because it was too bad seeing it so empty. The Mandarin Oriental hotel bar was hopping, and maybe the reason lies between that — probably cheaper — option, the elegance of CityZen, and the neighborhood not being very happening at night. Who knows. We enjoyed ourselves though, and I especially enjoyed my shrimp and grits!